What you should do when you’re going on maternity leave and worried your boss will forget all about you

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Welcome to What’s Working?, Insider’s work-advice column. It solves your real-life workplace problems with expert advice and research-backed tips, tricks, and life hacks.

I am 29 and I’ve worked at the same public-affairs company for eight years. I really like my job. I work hard, and I want to succeed, but I don’t feel supported or valued at work.

This has come to a head because I am planning to go on maternity leave this summer. These past few months, I’ve felt extra pressure to prove myself so that my company sees how good I am at my job. I was even considering working up to my due date until my doctor advised me not to.

I don’t think my extra effort is even being noticed by my boss. I worry that he’s already written me off and is assuming that I am less interested in my career because I am about to become a mom. Last week, when I emailed him my maternity-leave schedule, complete with detailed hand-off notes for colleagues who’d be covering for me, he wrote back that, "Management is handling it." I think this should be something we openly talk about. I want to be included in these conversations.

At this point, I am on the verge of shifting my attitude, and thinking, "Well, my boss will have to deal with it when I am away. Then he’ll see what I am worth." But I am a diligent worker who cares about my job and the future of my organization, and I know in my heart that is not a good attitude.

What can I do to show that I am committed? How can I get my boss to include me in conversations that affect my job? Or should I temper my expectations? My mindset is that I should work hard, get stuff done, but also enjoy where I work and feel supported and valued for my contributions. My mom, however, tells me: "It’s work. Your employer doesn’t owe you anything."

—Expectantly Expecting, California

You’re clearly a hardworking and conscientious employee. And the way you’re planning to ensure your maternity leave is manageable for your team and organization is admirable. You’re doing a lot of the right things.

But you’re also doing a lot of — well — the wrong things. You’re making assumptions about how your boss feels about your performance; you’re putting in extra hours and then neglecting to communicate the value of the work you’re doing; and, as far as I can tell, you’re also hoping to teach your boss a lesson when he inevitably ends up in a bind.

Let’s get you back on track. Your boss is not clairvoyant. If you’re worried he’s written you off because of your impending maternity leave, that’s a discussion you need to initiate. Take control of your narrative and show some personal agency.

Daisy Dowling, the author of "Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids," advises scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your manager in which you spell out your intentions. "Remind him of who you are as a professional and how you operate."

She suggests saying something along the lines of: "I want to make my plan entirely clear for the next six months and thereafter. I am committed to this organization and its long-term success, as I have been through the past eight years. I have mapped out everything to make my absence as easy as possible on the team. I look forward to returning from leave in three months, and continuing to lead our efforts on the Smith account and continuing to do great work with Jones Company clients."

Your goal is to re-stake your professional brand. "Reflect back to your boss what he wants to see in a top-flight employee and team member," Dowling said.

Try to summon some compassion for your manager as well. Even the best bosses with off-the-charts emotional intelligence are likely to be clumsy and perhaps even avoid these types of conversations. They worry about getting in trouble by saying something offensive or making a well-intentioned inquiry that simply lands wrong.

What’s more, your boss has probably just been through the most difficult period of his managerial life. He may be under all kinds of pressure and stresses that you don’t know about. As much as possible, try to depersonalize the situation.

That said, your well of compassion is not limitless. You’re in research mode. If this conversation does not go well — if your boss scoffs at your plans or is otherwise dismissive — that’s good information to know as you head out on maternity leave. You’ve invested eight years of your career at this organization. It might be time to move on.

As for how your perspective on work differs from your mom’s point of view, you’re both right — and you’re both wrong. Your mom was not a working parent in this technologically tethered 24/7 environment. She didn’t have to log on to her email after putting a baby to sleep, or make herself available to far flung clients before a daycare drop-off. This is not to say that your mom had it easy, but that expectations and demands were different.

Research from Gallup suggests that Gen Z and millennials — who make up nearly half of the American workforce — want to work for managers who care about them as people and are actively engaged in their career growth. They want to work for organizations that are supportive, and with colleagues they can learn from. You’re not alone.

But you may be somewhat unrealistic. You’re bound to work for good bosses and bad bosses over the course of your career. You’ll collaborate with great colleagues and not-so-great ones. And you’ll work for organizations that put a premium on having positive workplace cultures and others where the environment is borderline toxic.

The fact is, though, most bosses (and organizations and colleagues) fall somewhere in the middle. And most, frankly, do not pay much attention to making people feel good with fist bumps and atta girls.

Moreover, the further you go in your career, the less likely you are to get external validation, Dowling said. She recommends seeking out measures, such as clients requests or sales targets, that provide you with a sense of your job performance. "Having metrics gives you a compass," she said.

I’m not unsympathetic to what you’re going through. You’re on the cusp of a major life and career transition — it’s a big deal and it’s as scary as it is exciting. But you will figure it out, just as you will figure out your new role as a mother. In the immortal words of Dr. Spock: "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."

Congratulations on the baby!

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Rebecca Knight June 7, 2021 at 05:54PM

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